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June 2012


This comes across as a clumsy lyric in places but was an important catharsis for me at the time; not sure whether Adams' lyrical style influenced that or not! It was written when I discovered Whiskeytown's record Stranger's Almanac in the late 90s. For me this is still Ryan Adams greatest work. It shows you how a record without any particular spiritual intention can become a companion as we journey in faith. These are some of the issues I was dealing with at the time. My God was becoming bigger, my knowledge smaller; The Gospel was becoming wider, my impact less; my Calvinistic vision was becoming taller, the impact of my life becoming shorter. The faith community that birthed and nurtured me was not understanding. There might be some anger in these lines for which I apologise. There is a lot of hurt in there too. Ultimately there is a need to not get stuck but keep moving on, stumbling and tumbling with humility, honesty and authenticity after Jesus.

Strangers Almanac


Whiskeytown Ryan sings something about

Hanging with those who are like you used to be

When we sit here over coffee

That’s how I think of you and me

And I wonder where we moved apart

I think the problem is you stayed the same

And surely if we don’t keep travelling on

We’re dead, disobedient or a healthy dose of lame

Shallow men can talk a lot

Silence is deep and needs no words

I can hear a million voices

From lives that just never get heard.


Whiskeytown Ryan sings something about

Once having it all and now just having some

And I’m thinking that ain’t no backward step

But a sign of how far you’ve come

Springsteen spoke of a twisted blessing

The less you know the more you think you do

So when you know you no longer have the knowledge

You’re getting wise to what is true

Shallow men can talk a lot

Silence is deep and needs no words

I can hear a million voices

From lives that just never get heard.


Whiskeytown Ryan sings something about

Saying it lots but only meaning it sometimes

Leaves me wondering when he got to read

The hypocrisy in this Irish boy’s rhymes

Every tomorrow must be New Year’s Day

When our yesterdays are 31st of December

Every morning brings a brand new birth

In the grace of a God who won’t even remember

Shallow men can talk a lot

Silence is deep and needs no words

I can hear a million voices

From lives that just never get heard.


HANDSHAKE FW and Mandela

(I wrote this poem after a meeting our students had with former South African President FW De Klerk. De Klerk shared very honestly with us the political process that ended up allowing the Black vote in South Africa and Nelson Mandela becoming President. He told us that in peace processes we should search our own motives down to the marrow and then when we had done that, do it one more time! As people question the motives of Martin MCGuinness, I'd say that we can do nothing about his motives but we can search our own, right down to the marrow. Indeed let God search ours and see what traces of bigotry, hatred and sectarianism he can find;  Psalm 139 asks that same question.) 

Search me oh God

Down to the very marrow of my soul

Take every selfish part of me away

That would stop me from being whole

Help me peer inside my prejudice

To see the incentive of all my actions

Make kind the reflexes of my heart

Make gentle the strength of my reactions

Help me squint at every weakness

That comes from family and neighbourhood

To smash all idols of destruction

And create the art of all that is good

Search me oh God

Down to the very marrow of my soul

Take every selfish part of me away

That would stop me from being whole

And when I’ve let you search oh God

Believing to be in Your Spirit’s collusion

Let me look just one more time

For any remnants of my own delusion.


Yesterday was a historic day. It was my daughter’s
Farewell Assembly at Stranmillis Primary School and, though I will be back to do Assemblies in the future, it is our family’s last connection after eleven years; that is four more than I spent at my own school. Jasmine’s future is bright for the time she spent there and she is ready to move on. It echoes an event that happened half a mile away at The Lyric Theatre when the Queen Of Britain shook hands with Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness. This has also the potential of making my daughter’s future brighter. It is all about how many people are ready to move on. Some people need a good kick up the rear end and
told to move on. We are almost twenty years down the road from our worst days and everything from politics to night life to the relationship of Churches has changed. For many only deep rooted sectarian hatred built on a history that is never as black and white as they have built their prejudice on.

For others, though, it is a arm around the shoulder that is needed and I understand there are more difficulties to moving on. Last week I was honoured to be part of a Day Of Reflection event in Lenadoon where we remembered those lost in the Troubles. We were aware on the sacred ground of such grief. I as a Protestant was particularly sensitive. I remembered, in the most militarised Republican part of Belfast at the time, those murdered by guns and people from maybe this very community; my colleague at Fitzroy who as a two
year old lost his dad on his way to work murdered on a train and my friend from Primary School who lost his shot in a bar. As I remembered so Marissa remembered her husband killed by those from my community. Her husband was a Deacon Blue fan and she played the band on her way to the event as an act remembering and was then moved when I used their song Take Me To The Place for reflection; we bonded. Then there was Paul Gallagher who shared the Reflection from his wheel chair shot, again by my community. Reflecting in such depth of emotion I was brought face to face in a new way with the depth of pain and the utter futility of those lost and the carnage of the lives who live with it.

For Fr. Martin Magill and I it was a sensitive process
to help folk remember and then wrestle with the moving on. We were aware that the barriers for those who have lost most would find moving on difficult. And so with yesterday’s handshake. Yet, we believe as Christian leaders, that God always calls for hope, for peace and for ultimate redemption. We prayed and used the verse that Jesus taught us, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done/On earth
as it is in heaven”.
For me that verse is about bringing the peace of heaven onto the streets of Belfast. That has to be my priority; here I stand, I can do no other! I felt endorsed by Paul, a victim himself and leader
of VAST (Victims and Survivors Trust) who shared, This is a hard journey but there is always help there. All you have to do is ask for it. For those that can give help, all you have to do is offer it. It is, I hope, through this self-help and communal support that we can make this place a better place, a safer place and a happier place.”

It will take courageous and painful steps and imaginings to make this place a better, safer and happier place and as a Church
leader my job is to encourage those steps no matter how faltering, no matter how excruciating, no matter how brave. We owe it to Jasmine and her generation not to return to the days of the past. My fear has always been that our taking a breather in this grace time, that we have had since 1994, is not the way to move forward. Yesterday’s handshake is a strong symbol from a Queen who lost her brother-in-law and a man who turned from violence to politics. It was not
easy for either. For those who believe it was some political move for Sinn Fein I think it should be remembered that they will have lost votes yesterday among die hard Republicans; it was a risky strategy in their communities. For the Queen, and I am no Royalist, it was another sign of leadership, following her momentous time in Dublin last year. Maybe those who are loyal to her leadership need to find
some other icon to march for, claim Ulster for or kill for or need to follow her lead and move on.

Lyric For The Day 27.6.12 from The Hand Of God by Duke Special

Under The Dark Cloth

“Came from the east, a pilgrim’s son
Changed that faith for another one
When you’ve mouths to feed , you do what you can
Sold me soul to the railway man

All hail the hand of man
Gonna build wherever we can
Gonna make us a holy land
All hail the land of man”
- from The Hand Of Man by Duke Special

One of the many powerful songs on Duke Special’s brilliant Under The Dark Cloth record, this one is potent with prophetic cultural insight. It is a judgment and the expected consequences when a nation deals their soul for material. Though America would seem the nation in the dock here, Glen Hansard’s recent damning of the Irish Celtic Tiger echoes similar sentiments. And before the humanists leave comments the Church needs to hear this song too. You can claim to be worshipping God while still depending on the hand of man. As American Presbyterian minister Tim Keller said in an interview recently it is not wrong things we do that damn us before God. It is self righteousness. Self righteousness inside and outside the Church is when we hail the hand of man or woman or ourselves. 

GLEN HANSARD - Rhythm and Repose

Rhythm and Repose

I first saw Glen Hansard in an underground car park on Dublin’s Lower Abbey Street during the filming of The Commitments; it was a film crew that looked more authentic than Hollywood. I first spoke to him after a Van Morrison concert at The Point at the end of 1991 when I discovered
his little Vespa scooter parked beside me. The Frames were my favourite band in the world at the time and it was before I was used to meeting such people; Hansard was so authentic. Maybe six months later and there he is perched on the railings outside the arch at Trinity College and as I passed he spoke to me, remembering me from The Point. Now that is authentic.

Hansard’s music has always been authentic and Rhythm and Repose takes it further up and further in. Taking a year off from the years of Swell Season success, after nearly twenty years of The Frames, Hansard moved to New York for some repose. In the new rhythm of a life, where he had reluctantly come to terms with the success of the movie Once, and its’ becoming a Broadway musical while he was reposing, Hansard started writing and recording and in a very natural organic way he ended up with Rhythm and Repose.

It is an album about love and Hansard has written a record full of songs that give every last nuance of joy, hurt, companionship and betrayal that love can bring. There is a lot of heartache and regret on Rhythm and Repose which works well with Handsard’s emotive voice. Yet with all the heartbreak this is no Blood On The Tracks as the overall message that he declares in the opener You Will Become is that love has a redemptive power, always searching for, ever hopeful. Bird Of Sorrow believes, “Love is gonna find you again”; Love Don’t Leave Me Waiting is almost a prayer for the power of love to come “And love don't leave me guessing... ohh love... don't keep me here, Show yourself, show yourself” ; and the whole thing ends (before the extra
tracks) with love as a guide through whatever is thrown -  “You'll be fine babe/It's just some rivers and streams/In between, you and where you want to be,” on Song of Good Hope. The Gospel According To... Rhythm and Repose is that love is never a fairytale but it has the powers of redemption. In the midst of all this love Hansard gives a commentary on the Celtic Tiger that he felt ruined the authenticity of his people on The Storm, It’s Coming.

Musically Rhythm and Repose’s lineage is down through Swell Season back to The Frames’ For The Birds. The shadow of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks slipstream and viaducts are very much in the ether. Yes, it is the most stripped back Hansard has ever been but far from naked. There are Hansard’s signature whooshes, swells and soars and the bass groove on Love
Don’t Leave Me Waiting
is a groove of repose. Someone asked me on Facebook if it was perfect. If you’ve been following Glen Hansard for twenty two years like I have then it is pretty
close to it; deeply deep and truly authentic!

Lyric For The Day 25.6.12 from Isn't That What Friends Are For? by Bruce Cockburn

Isn't That What Friends

“I've been scraping little shavings off my ration of light

And I've formed it into a ball, and each time I pack a bit more onto it

I make a bowl of my hands and I scoop it from its secret cache

Under a loose board in the floor

And I blow across it and I send it to you

Against those moments when

The darkness blows under your door

Isn't that what friends are for?

Isn't that what friends are for?”

-     from Isn’t That What Friends Are For? By Bruce Cockburn

I have always found Cockburn lyrics so beautiful and powerful. When friends are in trouble of various kinds, whether ill, or grieving or stressed, I have often gone back to these words and sent such
prayers across the ether to wherever they are. It is what prayer is for me. And prayer in times of need is what friends are for.


I Do

When we say I do

If we only knew

What life pulls us through

Where hurts take us to

When we say I do

It needs to


In the better or worse

The blessing and curse

Your I do does

In the poverty and wealth

The sickness and the health

Your I do does


When we say I do

If we only saw

The random cutting claw

The heart ripped raw

When we say I do

It needs to


In the better or worse

The blessing and curse

Your I do does

In the poverty and wealth

The sickness and the health

Your I do does




Are they teaching you how to paint, my love

Are they suppressing the freedom of your art

Are they colouring inside the lines my love

Oppressing the love inside your precious heart

Remember that good is not always best, my love

There are times when the Lord God deplores it

Remember rules are not always the way, my love

Often times the devil will settle for it

So let your imagination go mad, my love

Throw shapes and shimmy and shake

Create the most seductive intrigue, my love

That no other human being could make

Yes, smash their lines to pieces, my love

Put your soul and this world at odds

Becoming an agitating provocation, my love

And the glorious beauty of the wildness of God.”

Lyric For The Day 22.6.12 - from You Will Become by Glen Hansard

Rhythm and Repose

“In time this won't even matter

This chapter will be long on the grass

And we'll talk about everything til it's easier

Your beauty is nothing compared to what

You will become

You will become

You will become in time become”

-      From You Will Become by Glen Hansard

For Sunday's Family Service in Fitzroy I am using the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast to share the truth of God’s loving grace. It is the greatest news of all time that God loves us at the very worst of our ugliness as exactly how we are. It is a wonderfully revolutionary message when we hear it under the pressures of the culture we live in. The movie goes on to tell us that being loved as we are is not the end. The Beast starts to become beautiful when he knows he is loved as he is. And so with God. He loves us as we are and loves us so much that he will love us into the full potential of who we could become.

So I am thinking of this and with great anticipation turn on the new Glen Hansard record and the first verse sums Sunday’s sermon up
“Your beauty is nothing compared to what you will become.” Into the order of service immediately!


Seed Sown
(a prayer I used at the Marking Of A Day Of Reflection event in St. Oliver Plunkett Church in Lenadoon on this longest day. Fr Martin Magill and myself were invited by VAST (Victims and Survivors Trust) to lead a reflective time... deep honour)


God we have found a place in your arms

Felt the soft tender down of your wings

You love us as we are

You want so badly to comfort us and heal us

You want to help us to move on a step

To sow one seed in a future

We find it hard God

We feel stuck... frozen in time...

Frustrated with the paralysis of pain

Give us energy, love, forgiveness and hope for one step God

To sow one seed God

Give us your Holy Spirit to find strength

To nudge us forward to make this place a better place,

A safer place and a happier place.

Please God

In the name of the one who was lost... and resurrected... that those of us who lose might believe in resurrection...